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1965 anti-civil rights billboard in Selma, Ala., showing Martin Luther King, Jr., at the Highlander School. (Flickr/Penn State Special Collections)
“Now, Bernard, the next movement we’re going to have is to institutionalize
and internationalize nonviolence.”
It was a comment made almost in passing. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Jr., then the
national coordinator for the Poor People’s Campaign, was walking out of Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s motel room in Memphis, Tenn.
Dr. Lafayette figured this was a conversation that they would finish later,
and he walked out of the room and headed to Washington, D.C., to attend a press
conference. But the two would never go on to finish that discussion; five hours
later, Dr. King was assassinated.
Dr. Lafayette was determined to not let Dr. King’s vision die with him. He
took those last words, “institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence,” as
what he has since called his “final marching orders” and has been working ever
since to accomplish just that.
In the late 1980s, Dr. Lafayette joined forces with David
Jehnsen, another activist who was involved in the civil rights movement and was
responsible for drafting the first proposal for the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Together, they created the Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation training
Forty-five years after Dr. King spoke about his vision for his next movement,
this philosophy has taken root in institutions around the world. In Bella Vista
Prison in Colombia, youth are trained in nonviolence by the prison inmates.
Tens of thousands of militants in Nigeria are turning in their arms after being
trained in nonviolence as part of a government amnesty program. Chicago’s North
Lawndale College Prep High School has seen a 90-percent reduction in violence
over four years, which began with a 70-percent reduction during the first year
it invested in Kingian Nonviolence.
As successful as this program has been in reducing and preventing violence in
communities riddled with conflict, it has also found success in social change
movements. Most recently, Kingian Nonviolence trainers have offered workshops
in this philosophy to Occupy groups around the country.
In many ways, the Occupy movement was, and remains, the perfect place to
continue living out Dr. King’s legacy. On the evening before his assassination,
while delivering a speech to a packed church in Memphis, he called for people
to move their money out of some of the major downtown banks and invest them in
local institutions. The last great effort of his life was the Poor People’s
Campaign, in which he called on poor people from around the country to gather
in Washington, D.C., to create an encampment called “Resurrection City.”
Forty-five years later, those very same struggles continue.
Part of the legacy left behind by organizers from the civil-rights era and
other nonviolent social movements is the importance of training, which is
heavily emphasized in Kingian Nonviolence. Dr. Lafayette was one of the
organizers of the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins, along with other noted civil
rights leaders like Diane Nash and John Lewis. In the process, many of them
received trainings in nonviolence from Rev. James Lawson, and their training
lasted a full year before they engaged in direct action. Mohandas Gandhi and
his followers lived in their ashram and trained themselves for 15
years before they embarked on the Salt March.
While it may not be realistic to expect everyone involved in a populist
movement to have been trained in nonviolence, it is critical that the
movement’s leadership has a strong foundation in nonviolent social change. The
work of reversing society’s ills and standing up to injustice is not easy, and
we need to be willing to invest the time and resources necessary to prepare
ourselves just as much as a military prepares its front-line soldiers. Social
change and the process of social transformation is not something to be made up
on the spot.
Radical social change will not come overnight, and it will not come easily.
Our challenge is not a matter of simply getting more bodies out into the
streets, but building a real nonviolent army — one that is grounded in the
power of agapic love, one that recognizes the importance of long-term strategy,
one that understands the role of direct action and can frame issues in a way
that speaks to the masses, one that is committed to building democratic
decision-making structures within the movement as well as in the larger world
and one that is disciplined even in the face of repression. Those
characteristics will not appear automatically.
While the initial momentum of the Occupy movement has slowed down for now,
many of the relationships that were built in it remain in place. Countless
thousands of people were “activated” by Occupy for the first time in their
lives. Now is the time for us to be strengthening those relationships and
networks, training ourselves so that the next time that moment comes, we are
more prepared than ever to take advantage of it and ride the wave toward
If we as a nation are going to continue to use Dr. King’s name and image as a
moral compass, then we owe it to him to continue his legacy of struggle. We owe
it to him to remind ourselves that he was not only a loving person who wanted
everyone to get along, but also a radical who was not afraid of confrontation.
We must remind ourselves that he was a man who called for a movement that is
“nonviolent, but militant, and as dramatic, as dislocative, as disruptive, as
attention-getting as the riots.”
We owe it to him, to ourselves and to our future generations to train
ourselves to build such a movement.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SCLC CANCELS INAUGURATION EVENTS
The National Office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference regrets to announce that it has been forced to immediately cancel its slate of festivities scheduled for Sunday, January 20 and Monday, January 21. That includes Sunday's SCLC Gospel Brunch, the Dream Keepers for Justice Dinner and Sunday's People's Inaugural Gala.
"Due to a series of unforeseen circumstances we regret being forced to pull the plug on our planned Inauguration programs," says Charles Steele, SCLC's CEO/President Emeritus. "That is unfortunate but we still want President Obama to know that the people we represent in the Civil Rights Movement staunchly support him."
Purchased tickets are refundable.
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The Southern Christian Leadership Conference's (SCLC) Programs and Initiatives address the disparities among the historically underserved both nationally and abroad.
In keeping with the mission of the SCLC and the legacy of our founder, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the new SCLC President Charles Steele plans to keep the SCLC's programmatic mission to first address the triple evils of poverty, racism and militarism.
The SCLC will focus on bringing together leaders across vocational disciplines to produce policy and potential soft power solutions to national and world peace and security issues.